New Director of Institute for Advanced Study Appointed

Robbert Dijkgraaf, photo by Henk Thomas.

A mathematical physicist who has made significant contributions to string theory and the advancement of science education has been appointed director of the Institute for Advanced Study.

Dutch scientist Robbert Dijkgraaf, who is currently President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and Distinguished University Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Amsterdam, will succeed Peter Goddard as director of the Institute.

Goddard has served as director of the Institute since January 2004. Dijkgraaf will take over the helm in July, becoming the ninth director of the Institute.

Founded in 1930, the Institute is one of the world’s leading centers for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. Its mission is to encourage and support fundamental research in the sciences and humanities that produces advances in knowledge that change the way we understand the world.

Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and a trustee of the Institute who served as chair of the search committee for the new president, praised Dijkgraaf, who was a unanimous choice for the top post.

“We live in a world in which the impact and influence of science knows no boundaries, nor should they,” Gregorian said in a release about the appointment.  “Testament to this fact is the selection of Robbert Dijkgraaf as the new director of the Institute. His appointment reflects the international nature of science and knowledge in our increasingly complex and interconnected global community.

“His rigorous intellect, matchless talent as a scientist, thinker and teacher, along with the depth and breadth of his experience as an institutional administrator, make him an outstanding choice to lead the Institute,” Gregorian said.

Dijkgraaf said he is happy to return to the Institute, where, early in his career,  he worked with Professor Charles Simonyi.

“I am delighted to have this opportunity to return to the Institute – a magical, transformative place that has played a crucial role in my professional life,” he said. “As one of the intellectual centers of the world, the IAS is a beacon for curiosity-driven research across the globe. The Institute is truly blessed with a wonderful, inspiring faculty, a dedicated staff, and a generous and understanding board of trustees. It is a great honor to follow in the footsteps of a remarkable line of directors. I am looking forward to renewing old friendships and building many new ones.”

Dijkgraaf is regarded as one of the world’s leading mathematical physicists, and his work has had a major impact on the development of string theory and quantum field theory. A former member and visitor in the School of Natural Sciences at the Institute, Dijkgraaf has found surprising and deep connections between matrix models, string theory, topological string theory and supersymmetric quantum field theory. He also developed precise formulas for the counting of bound states of strings and branes that explain the entropy of certain black holes.

In recognition of his significant contributions to string theory, Dijkgraaf was awarded the Spinoza Prize, the highest scientific award in the Netherlands, in 2003. Dijkgraaf’s work was acknowledged with the Physica Prize of the Dutch Physical Society in 2002.

Dijkgraaf will continue as distinguished university professor at the University of Amsterdam after becoming director of the Institute.

Born in Ridderkerk in the Netherlands in 1960,  Dijkgraaf  earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in theoretical physics from Utrecht University, and also studied painting at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. He was a research associate in the physics department at Princeton University from 1989–91, and then was a member in the School of Natural Sciences at the Institute from 1991–92.

An active proponent of the sciences, Dijkgraaf  frequently appears on Dutch national television and has a monthly column in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. He conceived and launched a website for children  in an effort to cultivate and sustain an understanding and involvement in the sciences, and his popular books include Blikwisselingen (2008), Bètacanon (2009) and Bètacanon Junior (2010).

Dijkgraaf and his wife, author Pia de Jong, have three children. De Jong’s critically acclaimed 2008 debut novel, Lange Dagen (Long Days), received the 2008 Golden Owl Literature Readers Prize, and established de Jong as one of the leading voices in fiction in the Netherlands. Her most recent novel, Dieptevrees (Depth Fear), published in 2010, has been widely praised by the press for its strong, elegant prose. She writes a weekly column in the newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad.